A couple of days back a friend posted an article with the headline “French athlete rescued from Indo-Pak border”. When I read the article, I realised that the French athlete who was found “unconscious for ten hours” is none other than Gael Couturier, an experienced ultra-distance runner (amateur category), an avid cyclist and the ex-race director of Run the Rann, one of the most grueling, international ultra-marathons in India. This was serious so I contacted him to find out if he was alright.
As it turned out, the news article was not just incorrect but seemed almost made up.
Here’s the real story – Gael was doing a route recce at Khadir Bet, Great Rann of Kutch with another runner, an Indian friend and a colleague of his named Suri Paji. Now, route recce is part of the normal “job” for a race director when you are planning a run at that level. Rann of Kutch is the largest salt desert in India with extreme temperatures and practically no habitation except for the local shepherds.
After informing and taking the authorisation from Border Security Force (you need one to perform any activity as it’s a sensitive border area), they had been on their feet for more than 7 hours, and their water supply was running out with around 5-8kms to go from the next pick up point where Gaël and his friend had stationed locals they trusted with water. Both of them were dehydrated and Gael’s partner seemed pretty tired to him, as he was advancing slower and slower. Being an experienced ultra-runner (with 4 Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc and 5 Marathon Des Sables in the Sahara under his belt, are you kidding me?), Gael knows when to seek help, especially in the heat. Concerned about his friend’s health but also his own health, Gaël decided to leave his friend behind and run harder to get to the pickup point sooner in order to get water. His idea was to try to bring this water back to his friend, even though both GPS had run out of battery by then (“because of the extreme heat, batteries lasted not as long as usual” , Gaël said).
On the way, after a fall and realising he has no more water and was exhausting himself quickly, as soon as he got network, he called for an ambulance. “I wanted the ambulance to reach asap both for me and for my friend because I was simply worried about us and also I knew that being rehydrated directly in your veins is a much faster process” he told me. Gaël was lying down to get rest for almost an hour when his partner and ambulance arrived both almost at the same time. His friend was actually not in such bad shape as Gaël who had exhaust himself and dehydrated himself much more by running for their life. The doctors started clicking him the moment Gaël got in to the ambulance and continued doing so in the hospital. They had never seen or met anyone like him, and imaginably so. He got an IV drip at the clinic and headed back to his camp with his partner. The next day a car drove them back to their home in Ahmedabad where they rested and the next morning, Gaël woke up with a message on his Whatsapp with this news clip!!
So, first things first, he wasn’t “400mtrs close to the border” but 40 kms away from it. The India-Pak border is a sensitive area and one can’t imagine going out there for a leisurely run. “You’d be shot before you even reach the 400 m landmark”, Gaël told me. He wasn’t unconscious at any given point either and no one “found” him. He himself called for the ambulance. No one from media contacted him to get details about the incident. And this is TOI Ahmedabad, we are talking about.
It’s just sad to know that journalists don’t realise the power they wield. They don’t understand that people can end up spending years defending a single factual error that a journalist might have overlooked, let alone an entire misreported article. What I find even more disheartening is that no one is even paying any attention to an issue as serious as this. In effect, we have given media the power to be the judge, the jury and the executioner. I can only hope that the truth finds its voice to overpower irresponsibility.